Results of a National Survey in Mexico

We distributed the survey to 1626 male and female respondents aged 15 years and older and had national and regional statistical representation. The sample was a probabilistic multistep sample with 95 % confidence interval and a margin of error +/2.05 %. The information was gathered at the end of the year 2012. The response rate was 94 %.

Volunteer Action: As mentioned earlier, we subscribe to the operational definition used in the other chapters of this volume that volunteering is considered as those actions that individuals carry out voluntarily (without compulsion), without pay, and for the benefit of third parties. In some places (as is the case with Mexico), we believe that immediate family members should not be considered among those third parties.

It is also important to clarify that the usual time frame when collecting this kind of information has been the 12 months prior to the interview; this is the case for several reasons: (1) as researchers, we are looking for more stable voluntary action that implies a given frequency and spans a certain time period; (2) the previous 12 months is a time frame not too far away from the respondent’s memory and, as such, it is not hard for him or her to remember features like the frequency or time devoted to such an activity; (3) it makes further calculations easier, since this time frame isn’t particularly short or too long and allows for comparisons with regular employment .

Of those surveyed, we found that 76 % reported participating in some kind of volunteer activity. Compared to the figures in other countries, this is a very high proportion by any measure but this is something we will return to later. In addition to the global participation figure of 76 %, Mexicans engaged in an average of 3.3 voluntary actions (during the past 12 months), but what does this mean? According to the criteria employed, each individual participated in an average of 3.3 different kinds of action, such as those mentioned above, each of which is defined by a specific activity that was undertaken with a given frequency (daily, or once or multiple times a week, month, or year), to which respondents devoted a specific amount of time (30 min or more). These were not mere single “voluntary acts” with ambiguous definitions.

Regarding gender specific differences, before this survey was applied it was believed that volunteer participation in Mexico was almost exclusive to women; however, 53 % of women and 47 % of men reported participating.

The Context of Voluntary Action in Mexico: The school-church-neighborhood triad accounted for the bulk of Mexicans’ voluntary actions (see the following figure).

SOURCE: ENSAV-2012 (Encuesta Nadonal Sobre Actividad Voluntaria)

We should consider that, in the case of Mexico, the hardships of education are huge and that calls for parents to be intensely involved in their children’s schools.

Among the activities that respondents mentioned in favor of schools, those that stood out included physical improvements, such as painting or cleaning the classrooms, and supervising the arrival and departure of students. These actions are perhaps more specific to circumstances that take place in Mexico and surely do not take place in less uncertain and more organized settings. Of school activities reported, 14 % included participation in “councils” or “commissions.” I consider this information to be an indication of how precarious the situation is but it is also indicative of a greater interest of people in educational institutions.

Next, among the actions for the benefit of church, those closely related to the religious practice itself stood out: supporting worship groups, teaching catechism, and organizing pilgrimages were the most prevalent. Helping with cleaning the premises or liturgical objects and other activities were important, but less so than the others.

With respect to actions in favor of civic causes, the environment or culture, we see that these only account for 10 % of actions.

While female participation is generally higher, men dominate two fields: sports with 66 % of participation and the neighborhood with 55 %. Women stand out in the remaining fields, but above all in childcare with 68 %, healthcare (62 %), and religious activities (62 %).

Mexicans not only carried out an average of 3.3 actions, but at least one of them took place in a different setting than the rest. This means that, on average, a person undertook, for example, one and maybe two voluntary actions in “school” (supervising the arrival and departure of students and helping with cleaning chores), but also carried out another activity in the “neighborhood.” In another example, perhaps the volunteer undertook one or two activities in “church” (teaching catechism and organizing a worship group) but also undertook a third activity supporting action in favor of the environment. This reveals a relatively important intensity level among the country’s population because, in general, they committed not only to one activity, but to a few. “Comparative data is not readily available, as researchers in other countries have not addressed these questions.”

Volunteer Work and Age Groups: In relative terms, the 15-24 years age group accounts for 25.4 % of volunteers, four percentage points higher than the following age group. Additionally, there are clear differences in the percentage of participants between the more senior groups and the younger ones. In this regard, we witnessed lower participation in older age groups.

SOURCE: ENSAV-2012 (Encuesta Nacional Sobre Actividad Voluntaria)

Educational Attainment and Voluntary Action: A characteristic that is also worth underscoring for the case of Mexico is that, even when educational attainment levels between those who have engaged in voluntary activities in the past year and those who have not do not exhibit large differences; in relative terms (starting at the secondary level), a higher level of educational attainment corresponds to more people doing voluntary action .

Time Devoted and Frequency of Voluntary Activities: As already stated, the volunteers surveyed reported an average of 3.3 volunteer activities in the previous 12 months. This means that they devoted a specific amount of time (30 min or more) to this number of actions in each case, and that each activity was undertaken with a given frequency (daily, or once or more every week, month, or year). Respondents were also asked, “Since when were they engaged in these actions?” “Was it a short time ago or a long time ago?”

However, before we go on, it is important to point out that most of the so-called volunteers in Mexico are not labeled as “volunteers,” as this word is seldom used. They are in fact just people who for a variety of circumstances decide to carry out “voluntary actions” for a given time. We discovered people that devote great time to volunteering, but it is more common in Mexico for people to pick up and abandon activities throughout their lives for short periods. To a certain extent, this characteristic is distinctive of Mexican voluntary activity, which does not seem to be similar in other places.

A clear illustration of the abovementioned is the contrast between respondents’ regarding volunteering in the previous year compared to the previous month. While 76 % of respondents reported one or more actions in the past year, only 45 % stated carrying out any of the actions during the previous month. This does not necessarily mean that these respondents abandoned voluntary activities altogether, but that a number of those who took part in voluntary action in the last 12 months did not do so in the previous month and, thus, the overall percentage is lower. We also asked respondents about volunteering at other times in their life beyond the previous 12 months to which a two-thirds majority responded affirmatively. Moreover, a third of those who were not volunteers in the previous year declared volunteering in the past. With these remarks I want to highlight two other traits: (1) the dynamic character of engagement in voluntary action in Mexico, and (2) what seems to be even more important: that Mexicans are very collaborative people, very eager to take part in voluntary action and, far from constituting some sort of career, they (most probably) engage in and abandon these activities as needs and possibilities demand and allow. Maybe this is a big difference with respect to what takes place in some other countries where there seems to be some sort of professional career in volunteerism .

Three Kinds of Voluntary Action in Mexico: Based on our findings, three groups of volunteers exist: the first is made up of two-thirds (67 %) of the volunteers and 49 % of the Mexican population (15 years old and up) who have been taking part in between one and three voluntary actions (that may vary in type and frequency) for less than one year. The next group consists of only 19 % of all volunteers—14 % of the Mexican population—and is made up by those who have been volunteering (that may vary in type and frequency) for more than one year but less than five. This group reported undertaking between four and five actions (that may vary in type and frequency) in the previous year. Lastly, there is a smaller group that is made up by 14 % of all volunteers and at least 10 % of the Mexican population; it consists of those who reported more than five years of commitment to voluntary action and engaged in five or more actions (that may vary in type and frequency). We are clearly looking at three different behaviors with respect to volunteer action. On the one hand, the share of the population they comprise is different and, on the other, the time devoted or intensity also varies. Nevertheless, the three groups exhibit the main traits we mentioned earlier, as they devote their action to the school-church- neighborhood triad, the main action settings in Mexico. Moreover, some differences warrant further comment. Regarding patterns in behavior over time between men and women:

  • 1. Among those who have been volunteering for a year or less (Group 1), the proportion of men and women is 50 %. However, among those with over one year but less than five (Group 2), the proportion changes to 41 % for men and 59 % for women. Lastly, among those with more than 5 years (Group 3), the proportion of men decreases even more to 39 %, with women accounting for 61 %. There is greater persistence in volunteer work among women. This information perhaps suggests that women project their voluntary work over longer periods than men. If we set this behavior in everyday life, we may infer that women commit to these kind of activities for longer time periods, but this should not lead us to minimize the role of men which, as figures reveal, is clearly important .
  • 2. Another important variation among the three groups is related to age despite the fact that these differences are not too evident and that all groups include both, very young people (15 years old) and senior individuals (between 85 and 88). However, and considering the previous remark, the age distance between groups 1 and 2 and group 3 is broader than the one between the first two. In the latter, the average age is almost the same (37 years of age) whereas the average age for group 3 is higher (39). Additionally, the third group has more 42 year olds (the statistical mode), whereas the first two have more individuals 17 and 18 years of age. Even when there are no important age differences among individuals in the three groups of volunteers, there tend to be slightly older volunteers in the group that has been carrying out these activities for a longer time.
  • 3. Other important differences among the three groups are the following:

Those engaged in voluntary action for over five years have had a greater proportion of immediate family undertaking voluntary action; group (organization) membership is also quite higher. What is still more noteworthy for this group is that it exhibits a higher intensity in its participation in volunteer action not only when measured in hours devoted but also with respect to frequency and subsector variety.

It is important to note that, in contrast to some characteristics exhibited by other countries, volunteer action in Mexico is quite prevalent among all age groups (15 years old and older) and socioeconomic levels. In fact, as we have stated earlier, important differences are/more obvious in the actual practice of voluntary action than in the profile of those who engage in it.

The Practice of Voluntary Action in Mexico : What does the actual practice of voluntary action look like in Mexico? First, it is varied; second, it is intense; third, it is short term. As we have stated previously, the school-church-neighborhood triad of action prevails but almost a third of actions (31 %) take place in other settings that are quite different among them. On average, each volunteer carried out 3.3 voluntary actions throughout the year, 2 in the same setting or subsector and an average of 1.3 in a different one. We should bear in mind that we are talking about actions that are carried out with a given frequency, during a specific amount of time and a particular periodicity.

In the survey, the majority of those who reported engaging in voluntary action (two-thirds) had not been carrying it out for more than a year and, moreover, a third of those that declared they had not been volunteers in the previous year stated they had been so in the past. We should also recall that not all those that reported actions during the past year reported activities in the previous month.

On the other hand, there is a more stable group that is nonetheless small. It comprises a mere 14 % of volunteers and 10 % of the Mexican population. This group exhibits some particular characteristics: a greater presence of females and older individuals, participation in several action settings, a history of volunteerism among family members and membership in groups. Judging by these traits, it would seem that these people may take on leadership roles in the field of voluntary action : Promotion of volunteer activity surely takes place through the efforts of many of these people who must be quite relevant in many of the organizations that already exist .

Hours Devoted to Voluntary Action: Up to this point, we have spoken about the extension of dedication to volunteer action on behalf of the Mexican population and some aspects that reveal a certain intensity in these actions. We designed the survey to assess the total number of hours devoted by those who reported one or more actions.

The estimation we arrived at was of an average of 283 h per volunteer per year, a very high amount of time devoted to volunteering. But the amounts of time invested into the different kind of actions allow us to undertake a slightly different path of analysis.

We mentioned that when considering the number of volunteers and actions the most popular subsectors in Mexico were the school-church-neighborhood triad, however, as we shall see, this changes if we consider the amount of time devoted to the different actions as the following figure shows.

SOURCE: ENSAV-2012 (Encuesta National Sobre Actividad Voluntaria)

Considering hours devoted, action in the neighborhood takes first place (22 %), followed by “childcare” (20 %), then “school” (13 %). This is quite a different composition to the one we had presented earlier but this is what actually takes place when we consider the amount of time devoted.

A little over half (55 %) of the total number of hours are devoted to three types of activities that are very specific to the situation of a country like Mexico, where many basic services that should be provided by public institutions are lacking. Many activities that Mexicans must carry out to make up for what governments fail to provide regarding basic service delivery in neighborhoods. In this respect, it is also important to mention that there has been in Mexico a very long history for communal (mutual) collaboration in the rural villages as well as in urban slums. This comes from the Spanish colony and has been utilized in modern times by the different governments after the Revolution since the 1930s as a way to solve many urgent needs of people. This is something which most Mexicans are familiar with in our day-to-day life and which has been documented extensively in books and reports of different kinds (among other authors see Verduzco, 2003).

In second place, we have—in a society that lacks proper and sufficient services for working mothers—“childcare,” a service provided by friends and neighbors in many cases. Then there is the school, where the main voluntary activities are cleaning, painting, and maintenance, as well as supervising the arrival and departure of children to and from school. These activities account for more than half of the total hours devoted by Mexicans as they volunteer.

I consider it to be clear enough that these activities, especially childcare and those undertaken in neighborhoods and schools, are actions carried out voluntarily because this is perhaps the only way to tackle and reduce the existing deficits; these are, anyhow, voluntary actions to which many hours are devoted and that imply a lot of work and effort. They are also a great aid to the Mexican society because of the efforts not carried out by the government and constitute a very valuable contribution.

Would Mexicans volunteer less if there were better services in the country? This is something we do not know, but these data reveal that the Mexican society has been very active and that society has responded to make up for many of the services that public institutions have failed to provide. Now, if we consider voluntary action that does not qualify as supplemental to public services (excluding also religious- related activities), we would have that up to 29 % of the hours reported in voluntary action are related to very different activities in diverse settings such as civic causes, the environment and culture promotion, among others. These activities receive an average of 82 h of dedication per year, a very important figure when compared to what takes place in some other developed countries. In Canada, for instance, the total number of average hours dedicated to voluntary activities (in favor of organizations) was 154 h (CSGVP, 2010).

SOURCE: ENSAV-2012 Encuesta National Sobre Actividad voluntana)

To summarize, Mexicans contribute a lot of their time to activities that other countries may not find necessary but what is important in Mexico is that a majority of 76 % has been eager to volunteer to provide a solution to some of the insufficiencies they face. This is, for now, a social wealth of great value that should not go unappreciated. Beyond the hours dedicated to activities that complement what the government does not carry out properly, the Mexican society also contributes quite exceptionally to other kinds of activities.

Voluntary Action Undertaken in a Collective Setting: Among those of us who study voluntary activities, the question of whether or not these should take place through social organizations has been widely discussed. What lies behind this is the idea that activities are more stable and, in general, better planned if organizations accomplish them in support of diverse societal causes. What individuals do on their own is considered something of a different kind, as it seems to be the case in Canada (CSGVP, 2010), France (Recherche et Solidarite, 2011), and the United States (US Labor Statistics, 2014). In our case, we decided to collect what individuals do first and then find out whether or not these actions took place within organizations (or groups) or not. We have proceeded in this way because experience has shown us that a lot of voluntary action was undertaken in different kind of settings many of which were not considered as formal (registered) organizations. We continue to observe countless cases where diverse kinds of volunteer action has been undertaken through groups that exhibit a very flexible structure and even a reduced temporality without becoming formally constituted under laws or regulations. This is something we will comment later given its importance especially in the case of a country like Mexico.

In our survey, we collected information relative to whether or not what respondents considered the most important activity had taken place in an institution “with an office or physical place to work in,” or with a group of friends or acquaintances (without an “office or physical place to work in”) or individually. The first option would reveal the probable existence of an institution while the second one would reveal only the presence of a group of friends or acquaintances. However, both options would point out that they undertook the actions in a collective setting, a situation that implies the existence of some degree of planning and a strategy for the agreement of at least two or more individuals.

Forty-two percent of volunteers responded that they had undertaken voluntary action in an institution (with an “office or physical place to work in”) and 21 % did so with a group of friends or acquaintances; almost two-thirds (63 %) carried out voluntary action in a collective setting of either an institution or a group. We are, without doubt, talking about an important proportion because it is indicative of a generalized perception held by respondents themselves about the collective setting in which their action took place. On the other hand, individual undertakings, took place in a little more than one-third of volunteers (36 %).

But back to our original question, we should point out that the 42 % of volunteers that reported undertaking their most important action in an institution is also a high proportion even if we compare this to what has been reported in other countries.

Although information on other countries is not similar in several respects and therefore cannot be directly comparable, there seem to be some similarities with France. For example, among French volunteers (Benevoles), 23 % performed their activities in favor of associations, 5 % in favor of organizations (unions, professional institutions and similar), and 8 % in nonformal groups (36 % in total). Besides this, an additional 20 % donated their time in favor of other people outside of their immediate family members: 56 % in total.

Group Membership: Group membership has been a relevant topic when gathering knowledge about the dynamics of civil society. An underlying assumption is that individuals achieve more, in several ways, when they sum up their actions through a group or organization and that this also benefits society as a whole.

In our survey, 25 % reported belonging to a group or organization. With respect to group membership levels between males and females, these are almost equal; 51 % of men and 49 % of women reported belonging to a group. Furthermore, almost all those who belong to a group (92 %) carried out voluntary action in the 12 months prior to the survey, indicating a possible association between group membership and carrying out volunteer action .

On average, respondents belong to 1.6 groups but the distribution is the following: The majority of respondents (67 %) belong to a single group, mostly religious in nature, but the rest (33 %) belong to two or more groups, mostly related to sports, social development, and political activities as well as devoted to caring for the sick and disabled.

In comparison to other countries, group membership is much lower in Mexico than in other places. In France, 55 % of French people reported belonging to an association or group (Bazin & Malet, 2011,2015). In Mexico, low group membership may be related partially to a particular history of being under an authoritarian regime like the PRI, the political party that has been in office for more than 70 years as has been explained elsewhere by this author (Verduzco, 2003).

The Monetary Value of Volunteer Work: Volunteering implies no compensation, but the time and effort devoted to any activity may be regarded as a potential expense for the volunteer. It is not easy to imagine the value that may be assigned to these activities because volunteers and activities are quite heterogeneous in nature; a context like this only allows for approximations that get us closer to estimating a minimum value. In this sense, if we assign the equivalent value of twice the official minimum wage for the Mexico City area in 2012, the 2012 US dollar equivalent is $1.20 per hour. Multiplied by the average yearly hours per volunteer (283), the average annual value per volunteer would amount to approximately $335 US. As we can see, considering twice the minimum wage yields a very low figure but it works as a reference value to, gauge the possible value of labor in ranges that may be equivalent to two, three, or four times the hourly minimum wage. The respective yearly values would be $335 dollars, $493 dollars, and $658 dollars per volunteer. According to Mexico’s national statistics agency (INEGI 2012), in 2012 the Mexican population aged 15 and older was 78.4 million. As we mentioned, 76 % carried out voluntary action, a total of 59.6 million people. Thus, in the three aforementioned minimum wage scenarios, volunteer contributions (as a percentage of 2012 GDP) would be 1.69, 2.56 %, and 3.38 %, respectively.

The total 2012-2013 health expenditure in Mexico was equivalent to 2.7 % of the GDP (Arely Villa, CIEP, 2012). If we were to calculate the value of the voluntary actions of the Mexican population using two and three times the minimum wage, this would result in these activities having a value comparable to the total health expenditure. This would also seem realistic since between 50 and 60 % of salaried workers in the country earn a daily income of between one and three times the minimum wage (ENOE, “salarios”, 2010-2011 series, INEGI). We therefore have a picture of the size of what Mexicans can contribute in a value equivalent to money for the country through their voluntary action.

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